The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has issued the Record of Decision for I-73, giving the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) the authority to begin design work on the proposed $4 billion, 70-mile long interstate between Roanoke and the North Carolina line. A Record of Decision is the final step in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that includes public involvement and considers the possible environmental impacts of transportation projects.
"We have cleared a major milestone in the development of I-73," said VDOT Salem District Administrator Richard Caywood, P.E. "This will be a very involved, very expensive project."
Estimates indicate designing the entire new roadway could cost approximately $330 million while construction costs could top $4 billion. Currently, about $13.3 million, including about $8.8 million in federal earmarks, has been allocated in VDOT's Six-Year Improvement Program for design and construction of I-73.
"We're going to take steps to make the best use of the funds we currently have available," Caywood said.
Groups of residents and business leaders in North Carolina and Virginia have been working toward the highway's construction for more than a decade, hoping to revitalize areas devastated by the downturn of the American textile industry, North Carolina's News-Record.com reported.
In the coming months, VDOT will work with local, state and national elected officials to identify segments for initial designs. I-73 in Virginia will reflect a "context-sensitive solution" design wherever possible. As defined by the FHWA, context-sensitive solutions involve affected citizens, officials, business and property owners and others in developing "a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility."
For more information about I-73, including location maps and the complete Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was completed in December 2006, the public can go online to www.i73info.com.
I-73 was identified by the U.S. Congress as a high-priority corridor in the federal transportation funding bill of 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act. It was defined as a north-south corridor from north of Detroit to Charleston, S.C.
"I began to think we would never get it through in our lifetime," said Bill Goldston, former North Carolina state senator and a member of JobLink, a group that has been lobbying for the highway since 1993. "But now it looks like we've got a shot."
A portion of I-73/I-74 has been completed south of Greensboro, N.C. Construction also is underway on a section north of Rockingham, N.C., as well as a portion of the Greensboro Western Loop, which will carry both I-73 and I-40. Both segments under construction in North Carolina are expected to open in late 2007.
South Carolina is working on Draft Environmental Impact Statements to develop a purposed corridor for I-73. In West Virginia, plans and studies have been initiated, but no work has begun. The Ohio DOT currently is not developing the corridor; preliminary studies in Michigan identified potential corridors for I-73, but there are no current plans to proceed with the project.